Four Arkansas Derby graduates have secured a spot in the Kentucky Derby – if they choose to run – including Creator, the last-to-first winner of Saturday’s $1 million Grade I race at Oaklawn, under Ricardo Santana Jr.
Creator, who is trained by Steve Asmussen, earned 100 points for his 1 ¼-length victory over Suddenbreakingnews before an estimated crowd of 65,000 on the final day of the Oaklawn meeting. Coupled with a third-place finish in Oaklawn’s final major prep for the Arkansas Derby, the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 19, Creator has amassed 110 points to rank sixth on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard.
The May 7 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs has been limited to 20 starters since 1975. If more than 20 enter, starting preference is given to horses with the highest point totals in the 34-race “Road to the Kentucky” series. At least 20 horses have entered the Kentucky Derby every year since 2004.
The Arkansas Derby, which drew 12 starters, was the country’s final Kentucky Derby prep race.
Suddenbreakingnews (50 points) and Arkansas Derby third-place finisher Whitmore (44) rank Nos. 12 and 16, respectively, and are safely in the field. Cupid, 10th as the 4-5 favorite in the Arkansas Derby, has 50 points to rank No. 13. Cupid earned those 50 points for his Rebel victory.
Dazzling Gem, who finished fourth in the Arkansas Derby, is on the Kentucky Derby bubble, ranking 25th with 30 points.
Creator will be flown to Kentucky Monday, said Elliott Walden, president/CEO and racing manager for WinStar Farm, which owns the gray son of Tapit.
“He came back good,” Walden said Sunday afternoon. “Everything’s great.”
Creator, who gave Asmussen his third Arkansas Derby victory, ran 1 1/8 miles over a fast track in 1:50.14.
Trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel said Suddenbreakingnews will be vanned Tuesday to Kentucky, adding “you’ll probably see him in the entry box” for the Kentucky Derby.
Suddenbreakingnews, who finished fifth in the Rebel, rallied from well back to grab second under regular rider Luis Quinonez. The gelding was 10th after three-quarters of a mile.
“The only puzzling thing was Louie said he was struggling with the race track a little bit, and really didn’t start moving until they straightened away down the lane,” Von Hemel said. “Around the turn, I was really worried about whether he was going anywhere at all.”
Suddenbreakingnews was a last-to-first winner of the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 15 at Oaklawn.
Von Hemel’s only Kentucky Derby starter, Clever Trevor, finished 13th in 1989.
Whitmore, beaten 2 ¾ lengths by Creator, is also headed to the Kentucky Derby, the gelding’s co-owner/trainer, Ron Moquett of Hot Springs, said Sunday morning. Moquett said Whitmore came out of the race fine physically and will be flown Monday to Kentucky. The gelding will spend two days in Lexington (oxygen therapy), Moquett said, before arriving at Churchill Downs.
Moquett said Whitmore rider, Irad Ortiz Jr., thought he might go down after the horse on the outside, Luna de Loco, “came over on him,” about 100 yards out of the gate. The trainer said Whitmore lost position because of a “stumble” and was farther back than expected (11th through a half-mile) “after the race matured enough to where everybody was running full speed.”
“That horse is obviously a good horse,” Moquett said of Creator. “I’m not taking anything away from him. Yesterday, the horse that had the ability also a trip that enabled him to do it. There’s something to be said about our horse being in trouble. I believe we’re not a trouble-prone horse, but three times in a row and you start thinking.”
Whitmore finished second in the Southwest after having to steady and was second in the Rebel when caught five-wide on the second turn. Moquett said he hopes Ortiz Jr., the country’s top jockey this year in purse earnings, will ride Whitmore back in the Kentucky Derby. He also rode Whitmore for the first time in the Rebel.
“I like familiarity,” Moquett said.
The Arkansas Derby represented the first Grade 1 victory for Santana, 23, Oaklawn’s leading rider the last four years.
Asmussen also won the Arkansas Derby in 2002 with Private Emblem and 2007 with Curlin. However, he is 0 for 13 in the Kentucky Derby, with Private Emblem finishing 14th and Curlin third. He also finished second with Nehro in the 2011 Arkansas and Kentucky derbies.
Rebel Winner Cupid Headed to Kentucky Monday; Derby Decision Pending
Rebel Stakes winner Cupid, who was the 4-5 favorite in the Arkansas Derby field of 12 but came up empty in the stretch to finish 10th, was to be on the same flight and was headed to trainer Bob Baffert’s Churchill Downs division.
Cupid earned enough Kentucky Derby points with his Rebel win (50) that he stands high enough on the leaderboard to qualify for one of the 20 spots in the starting gate May 5.
“He’s fine this morning and he’ll fly out tomorrow,” said Jimmy Barnes, the assistant to Baffert, who is headed home to Southern California or a few days before flying to Kentucky.
The Effinex Tour is Coming to a Track Near You
“Russell and I are taking this show on the road,” said a happy Kent Sweezey, the assistant to trainer Jimmy Jerkens, the morning after Tri-Bone Stable’s multiple graded stakes-winning Effinex notched a statement victory in Saturday’s $750,000 (G2)Oaklawn Handicap at Oaklawn Park. ‘Talent-wise, he’s right up there with the best of them. There is a long year ahead and a lot of races to look forward to.”
Dr. Russell Cohen is the breeder of and veterinarian for the 5-year-old son of Mineshaft. Effinex races for Tri-Bone Stables, which is the nom de course for his Cohen’s mother.
After a night’s sleep and time to digest his horse’s performance, his opinion hadn’t changed since Effinex crossed under the wire in 1:49 for the 1 1/8 mile under Hall of Famer Mike Smith while finishing one length in front of Grade 1 winner Melatonin.
“It was as impressive as it looks. Mike was on his back with absolute confidence. He won’t win off by a thousand (lengths) because it’s unnecessary. Every time Mike has gotten off him, he’s left a full tank of gas in him,” Cohen said as he held the shank while Effinex munched on the green grass outside the barn.
Sweezey was equally in awe of the performances of Effinex and Smith.
“Yes, every bit of that. Mike came back and said the horse hadn’t even taken a deep breath yet. The interesting thing is the first three finishers (Point Piper was third) all came out of that same race in California (G1 Santa Anita Handicap), which goes to show this was a really good race. Mike made all of the right calls and rode a great race. Mike really gets along with this horse and they have formed a pretty cool bond,” Sweezey said.
Sweezey, who grew up in the Blue Grass of Greater Lexington, KY. And has worked for Jerkens for about a year, has been around a lot of awfully special horses. But he wouldn’t compare Effinex with any other.
“They’re all different. He’s got such a personality. Some horses just wants to hang out at the back of their stall. He hates being locked up in there. He wants to be outside. He despises being brushed. He just wants a towel thrown over him and then to go out on the track,” he said.
In his only other start of the season, Effinex was beaten by Melatonin. But when Effinex shipped to the West Coast he contracted a horrible case of the hives. After the Oaklawn Handicap, Smith said that Effiniex wasn’t himself in the race at Santa Anita but the real Effinex was back this time.
“Shipping around can tackle a toll on a horse. Luckily, for him, it didn’t (this time). The initial thought when he first came back from California was it seemed to have taken a lot out of him. But, after he got back to the track he put whatever weight he had lost right back on. He’s a great doer, he ate up everything last night and gobbled it down. He came back from the race just perfect and is perfect today,” said Sweezey.
Although the horse’s continued 2016 campaign won’t be mapped until he returns to the care of Jerkens and resumes his training schedule, under consideration are Grade 1 races in New York and California leading up to the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita in November.
“We’re looking forward to a lot of nice things to come this year,” said Dr. Cohen. “It’s the Effinex Tour,” said Dr. Cohen.
Effinex just walked the morning after the race and was set to board a plane headed for New York first thing Monday morning.
On the same flight will be Upstart, who finished sixth in the Oaklawn Handicap after winning the prep race, the $350,00 (G3) Razorback Handicap here March 19.
“It definitely wasn’t the trip we had hoped for,” Melissa Cohen, the assistant to trainer Rick Violette, said while recalling that Upstart was last away at the break and raced wide throughout. “He was slow at the start and then right from the get-go, he was chasing, chasing, unfortunately. But he came back to the barn fine and he’s no worse for the wear. We walked him this morning and we’ll get him back home tomorrow and go back to the drawing board. There are a lot of races on the calendar and a lot of options for him.”
Blofeld, who was fourth in the race, was also scheduled to depart on Monday morning but was headed to Kentucky to join Todd Pletcher’s Keeneland division.
He will be accompanied on the flight by stable mates Gettysburg, who wound up fifth in the $1 million (G1) Arkansas Derby, and Decorated Soldier, the winner of the $150,000 Northern Spur Stakes, on Saturday.
All three came back from their respective races in fine shape.
Hollendorfer’s Trio Exit Races Well
Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, who sent three horses from California to compete in Oaklawn’s Racing Festival of the South and wound up with one second and two third place finishes, reported Sunday morning that each was in fine condition.
Point Piper, third in Saturday’s $750,000 (G2) Oaklawn Handicap, and I Will Score, second in Friday’s $150,000 Bachelor Stakes, departed the backside and were jetting back to California. Multiple graded stakes winner Tara’s Tango, third in the Friday’s $600,000 (G1) Apple Blossom, remained behind until tomorrow.
“She’s going to Kentucky for two or three weeks and will then resume her campaign (in the Older Female dirt division),” Hollendorfer said. “They all came out of the races well.”
Hollendorfer has won two Festival stakes in the past, taking the (G3) Fantasy Stakes in 2010 with Blind Luck and in 1991 with Lite Lite. Both fillies used the victories as a springboard went to multiple Grade 1 wins, including the Kentucky Oaks, and Blind Luck was awarded champion 3-Year-Old filly honors.